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We've all met both kinds of people, which generally can be categorized by the status of their desks: the ones who have a clean, non-cluttered desk; and the ones whose desk look short of having been struck by a bomb shell. But what kind are programmers? Is programming driven by:

  1. either order or chaos, but not both,
  2. a combination of both,
  3. or does it have no impact whatsoever?
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Most are Lawful Good. –  bmargulies Sep 26 '10 at 21:35
@bmargulies: I don't know, I'd say more Neutral Good. We're only lawful when it makes sense to be ;) –  Matt Ellen Nov 19 '10 at 13:10

12 Answers 12

Both are dangerous for the business (not related to quality of the code produced).

IMHO, the best ones are those who are not too ordered, and not too messy. The pragmatic ones.

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Interesting. I've updated the question as to not exclude this option. –  gablin Sep 25 '10 at 18:01

The chaos level on my desk looks something like this graph, replace Amplitude with Chaos (image taken from Wikipedia):

Every few weeks, I clean my desk, throw away all the useless things that keep accumulating, and vow to keep my desk clean forever. Few weeks later, I do the same.

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It seems your desk would be a perfect model to explain garbage collection :D –  back2dos Oct 9 '10 at 15:25

Order or Chaos? Hmm... well, I'm usually Chaotic Good, though I have been known to play Paladins from time to time, just for a change of pace... ;)

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Level 14 chaotic good code warrior with a +3 desk of holding –  AShelly Sep 25 '10 at 23:56
+1 for being the first nerd to make a gaming reference. And dont you people pretend you didnt get the joke. –  GrandmasterB Sep 26 '10 at 5:02
Damn why you had to mention that? Now I have to go install BG2 again... –  rmx Nov 19 '10 at 13:16

First, they know enjoy chaos. Then they learn how much it can hurt and learn a lot about order. But after some time they feel like in a prison of patterns, and start to put a bit of chaos in their order. When they become master, they just use ordered chaos.

Everything that can survive for a long time is made of hard order around or in soft chaos (like flesh and bones).

For example, in video games programming/design, to control the player experience but still provide liberty of action to the player - for example to manage a game world built with gameplay-emergence in mind -, we often end with a structured graph (order) of "sandbox" spaces (chaos). One excellent example of this might be Deus Ex. Or even Thief 1&2.

If you think about it in a fractal way, there is a lot of chaos in ordered cells generating chaos contained in ordered bodies, etc.

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+1 insightful. The universe could be said to be composed of order and chaos. –  Larry Coleman Nov 19 '10 at 13:40
I'll add something to make my point more clear. –  Klaim Nov 19 '10 at 13:56
Your point was clear enough, I was just saying that it has a more general application. –  Larry Coleman Nov 19 '10 at 18:45

Others often tell me that my office looks incredibly cluttered and unorganized. But it isnt. Their limited minds just cannot grasp the elegant expression of mathematics and algorithms that coalesce into a beautiful display of esthetic order and symmetry in my office - one that is far beyond their comprehension.

Also, I find that if I keep all the surfaces covered, I never have to dust.

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I've never been much into filing things (i.e. filing cabinets with neatly labeled folders). I generally have several stacks of paper on my desk, so to find something I have to search through (usually just one) of the piles. The thing is, I know pretty much where everything is and can find a given paper pretty quickly.

But I work for a startup, and I have moved offices probably four times in thast couple of years. Every time that happens, my stacks of paper wind up in filing cabinets and then I have no idea where anything is (for a while).

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This makes me think of Gaston's cactus filing system. –  gablin Sep 25 '10 at 20:30
Have the same "problem" ... nice thing is that I can find anything that way, as long as no one moves anything. –  Rook Sep 25 '10 at 20:36

My work life is order (non cluttered desk). My home life is chaos (cluttered everything).

The difference is that I am solely in control of my non cluttered desk - I have a wife and kids to share the cluttered home with :)

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And most importantly, how's your code? =) –  gablin Sep 25 '10 at 20:25
just like my desk :) –  Chris Buckett Sep 25 '10 at 21:09
Really? I get by with a lot more chaos if I'm the only person who manipulates it. I learned early on that two-person chaos doesn't work, because nobody can remember where things are. –  David Thornley Nov 19 '10 at 15:15

We just moved a couple of months ago. The whole house is more or less finished, except for my room which is a plain mess. But as a certified member of the ADD club, this is not a surprise.

The fun part is that I'm quite ordered while programming. But chaotic with other tasks.

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For me answer is 3. No Impact.

But, I think that we tend to categorize everything because we are a kind of science professionals and is difficult to us treat people without making an analysis based on some kind of statistic.

Certainly, one of my bad habits too, of course. :)

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If you're talking only about desk organization I'd go for order. My reasoning is that order is a proven process: you first organized your desk and saw how to organize it to be most efficient. In doing so you created some order.

This all go with the quality of a good programmer: good analytical skill (you saw how to places things to maximize efficiency), attention to details (by placing all my things correctly I save ms of time when searching for things), seeing patterns, etc.

This do not means that an unorganized desk is necessarly a bad one (he can be a genius) but I'd say order as an advantage and it's code, while maybe not as clever, is probably more organized.

Personnality-wise I'd say it is different and will probably vary according to your taste but I think that chaotic personnality are usually more creative and this might be something you might be looking for in a programmer.

So well, to conclude, I'd say it is relatively subjective first, and worse it depend on the situation (a chaotic desk is not the same as a chaotic personnality) and more than that on the reason behind the order or chaos.

Exemple: I can have an orderly desk because I have a lot of attention to details and just notice that by placing my notes just there it makes space for my cup of coffee just there and just there is just the perfect place not to spill it and be able to reach it easily at the same time .. or I could have an orderly desk because that's how my parents told me to do and I just never questionned them.

I think that we can conclude that, even if both situation is an orderly desk, it is not the same at all to check for programming ability.

So in short, do not look at order and chaos by itself but on the reason behind that order and chaos and I think that's the principal thing to look for. If your reasons align with programming quality then who care what others think.

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After my initial enthusiasm has passed, I tend to procrastinate and then do my actual work in a sprint (2-3 sessions of 12-16 hours). Before that sprint, I totally clean my table and at the end it just looks like hell.

I think order has somewhat of a positive effect, since it feels quite pleasant and somehow makes it easier for my to finally get started (although this may be simply because of the ritual). But order is not worth interrupting my flow.

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  • Order for product design and codebase management.
  • Chaos for process and hardware resources management, and that thing called "real-life".
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